The body is a vessel for sacrifice both literally and symbolically in Moses Pendleton’s Passion, the 17-year-old dance work that opened Momix’s run at The Joyce Theater in May. The episodic piece set to Peter Gabriel’s score for the film The Last Temptation of Christ is a visual feast with bodies that are pushed to extreme physical limits, but its substance does not fully match that of the music.
Despite this, it is obvious why international venues keep bringing Passion back; it has the palatable Momix recipe of sensuality, athleticism, beauty and illusion. Like magic shows, or Cirque du Soleil—to which Momix is now often compared—trickery is what drives the piece, the attempts to create moving sculptures with the body that are dazzling.
The work opens with the projection of a man’s face on a front scrim. That face morphs into a tree, and from behind that scrim, the dancers appear in nude-colored costumes and stocking caps. They are arranged in a line going up stage so that only the front body is seen, with limbs protruding out in a tree-like fashion. Flowing movements of the arms evoke a multi-limbed goddess, and two dancers are lifted and swung like pendulums with knees bent, feet flexed. The dancers then assemble in a tight circle, arms wrapped behind backs. A dancer initiates an up and down wave, and the group spins around the stage like an undulating top.
The projections continue to morph throughout the 75-minute piece. From the tree, to Chinese tomb sculptures, to a brain, to Renaissance paintings, the only connecting thread between the images is that they are the motivation for the movement that follows. At times this formula works, as when there is an angular, flying statue projection and two male dancers jump into the air and literally suspend in the same position as the image for longer than one would think possible. Their strength and power are seemingly beyond human. At other times, the formula feels disconnected because the images are so disparate, like when a portrait of soldiers is projected onto the screen, eventually morphing into the projection of a Mayan-looking sculpture. The movement that follows involves a male dancer on all fours, spastically circling his head.
Passion relies on creative body concepts, not necessarily innovative movement patterns. But some of the so-called illusions are a bit watered down, like when a female dancer sits on a male counterpart and pretends his legs are hers. Other concepts are absolutely breathtaking. The strongest and most mesmerizing section of Passion comes toward the end, when a male dancer hangs from the ceiling, surrounded by women who look as though they had been hanged and covered in red velvet hoods. The lighting makes it look as if they are suspended in the heavens. With incredible precision and tenacity, the male dancer moves through sacrificial motions on the ropes.
Then a large pyramid-like projection serves as scenery for three female dancers. They emerge from the wings with white glowing veils covering their topless bodies, a long train following. The brilliant lighting design makes them look like ghosts floating around the tomb, and as they manipulate the veils with exacting throws, wraps and bundles, it looks as if they are moving metallic liquid around the stage. It is haunting and beautiful.
Such images leave a lasting impression. The triumph of Passion lies in the eery and otherworldly mood it creates.
Momix continues performing another Pendleton favorite, Lunar Sea, at The Joyce Theater through June 8.